I have been fortunate to drive some pretty exciting machinery over the past couple of decades, but not a single one of them prepared me for the ride I took this weekend. A handful of writers and photographers were asked if they wanted to go for a couple of hot laps in a World Challenge car. There was Kuno Wittmer in the Viper, Peter Cunningham in the Acura and I was more than happy to ride shotgun with Randy Pobst in the K-Pax Volvo S60.
First off, I have to mention that there is no fear involved. I have met Randy before and he is a friend of Gary Faules. I’ve seen enough in car footage to know that he is nothing short of a world class driver. Fear doesn’t even enter into the equation.
Perhaps shock and awe would be a better description.
I’m a big boy, so crawling in to a full on race car is a bit of a challenge. Once inside, I realize there is nowhere for my feet, as a black panel with the words “do not put your feet here” is where they would normally go. This will be interesting.
As Randy hits the ignition, the inside of the car comes to life and actually feels much like our old rally car. Solid engine mounts and welded in roll cages combine to bring a certain level of vibration to the occupants. As we trundled down pit lane, I wasn’t quite ready for what happened next. We reached the acceleration line at pit out and the car exploded down the narrow lane. The back end instantly stepped out, caught by a quick flick of opposite lock. Out of pit lane, to the top of turn 2, and still hard on the throttle as we were well over 100 mph. Over the crest and down the hill, all I could think was that the tires weren’t yet up to full temperature. The car got a little loose at the second apex of 2, this time Pobst didn’t correct. He just allowed the car to do its full throttle dance as we shot towards 3.
As the heat came back into the tires, things got even more explosive as Randy fed in more throttle. After a few relatively light brake applications, the brakes came up to temperature too and Pobst began going deeper into the corners and braking harder. The brakes in this monster come on like hitting a brick wall. There is no way one could driver this machine with normal seat belts, it would put you through the windshield.
What struck me was not just the violence of every action the Volvo makes, but the fact that even an alert passenger can feel everything the car does. I’ve never driven a car on slicks, so I was quite surprised at how often I could feel the car slide. The rotation of the car is very pronounced, and comes with almost every driver input. On the throttle? The car gets a tiny bit sideways. Braking? Ditto. Through 5A and 5B, Pobst was off the throttle and the brakes, effectively coasting from one apex to the other and yet the car began to rotate into oversteer before the throttle came on for the big climb.
The acceleration up the big hill that is the Andretti more or less straight was nothing short of epic. We topped out at about 150 miles per hour. I’ve driven that fast up the hill, but it just didn’t feel as explosive, not to mention the fact that I actually slowed down for 8. On our second lap, we passed Tom Hnatiw driving a Corvette camera car. He was barely moving, far off to the left side of the track. Blowing past a slow moving car at 150 is crazy.
Arriving back in the pits, Pobst commented on how well the S60 turned right with me on board. Nice guy huh? Seriously though, Pobst is a complete gentleman and a pleasure to hang out with. If I ever get another chance to ride shotgun with him, I’ll jump at it.
On Saturday, Randy Pobst won the World Challenge race and then on Sunday he led the race early until Ron Fellows ran away to take the win.